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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 17

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



It would require an entire book of several hundred pages to explore in any exhaustive sense all of the problems and questions which scholars discuss concerning this chapter. Our purpose does NOT include such an extensive treatment of what is written here. The great facts of the chapter are as clear as our solar orb on a cloudless day when the sun is at perihelion.

(1) The day of grace for the Northern Israel expired, and God removed them “out of his sight” (2 Kings 17:18). Therefore, we may safely ignore the Book of Mormon and its fairy tale about the American Indians being “the lost ten tribes,” as well as all the other cock and bull stories that, throughout history, have located those lost tribes in half a dozen places. Our theory is that if God can’t see them anymore, men might as well stop looking for them. Many of the false theories about the present-day “discoveries” of the lost tribes are founded upon an obscure reference from an uncanonical book (Esdras 13:29-47).(F1)

(2) Hoshea was the last king of Israel, and he reigned only about nine years, and all of that as an Assyrian vassal (2 Kings 17:3). Shalmaneser IV the son of Tiglath-pileser discovered Hoshea’s defection to an alliance with Egypt and came up and conquered the land in either one or two campaigns. It is mentioned that he imprisoned Hoshea, but that probably took place after the fall of his capital city (Samaria) in 722 or 721 B.C. However, the actual capture of Samaria appears to have been made by Shalmaneser’s successor Sargon II. Much of the history of this period is uncertain. Keil, for example wrote that Shalmaneser and Sargon “were one and the same person.”(F2)

This writer does not share the implicit confidence some scholars attribute to ancient pagan monuments; there is no reason whatever to consider them any more accurate than the Holy Bible, or their being, in any sense whatever, necessary as “confirmation” of what is therein written. We have already pointed out the gross error on a modern monument at the head of Wall Street on Broadway, New York City. And, if in the present state of civilization, such a mistake is possible, how much more likely it must be that there were countless mistakes, intentional errors, and outright lies in ancient pagan monuments.

(3) The depopulation of Samaria and its environs was also a result of the fall of the Northern Kingdom. One of the “monuments” cited by several scholars recorded that some 27,920 were deported by Sargon,(F3) but that did not include the number carried into captivity by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29). Also, that might have been merely the number of the initial list of captives. In fact, Hammond pointed out that, “The 27,920 were those taken from the city of Samaria,” and that, “A vast number of others were carried off from the smaller towns and country districts.”(F4)

The fact that the entire land was so devastated that it was overrun and made unsafe by the prolific multiplication of wild animals (2 Kings 17:26) certainly indicates the near total depopulation of Palestine. One scholar mentioned what he called, “A Jewish tradition that only Judah was left.” That, however, was not a tradition at all, but an emphatic declaration of God’s Word that, “There was none left but the tribe of Judah only” (2 Kings 17:18).

Of course, this does not mean that individual descendants of the various tribes were all removed from history. The N.T., for example, names a number of persons identified with one or another of the lost tribes (See Luke 2:36).

(4) The origin of the mixed race of people known as the Samaritans is also revealed in this chapter, a matter of immense importance. Significantly, the priests (ignorant and inadequate as they were) delivered the Pentateuch to the peoples of Samaria, who, by reason of it, became monotheists, countless numbers of them accepting Christ in his ministry (Luke 4). Furthermore, the existence of that Samaritan Version of the Pentateuch gives the lie to the claim of modern radical critics who advocate a late date for the Law of Moses. Adam Clarke flatly declared that, “The Samaritan Version is precisely the same as the Hebrew, only fuller, having preserved many words, letters, and even whole sentences, and sometimes several verses NOT in the Hebrew. In all other respects, it is the same as the Hebrew, except for the Samaritan language.”(F5) In this light, how ridiculous is the false claim that the regulations of the Pentateuch were unknown until after the exile! The period (circa 722 B.C.) was a long, long time prior to the exile.

(5) The chapter also reveals that the devastation and removal that came to Northern Israel were also intended by the Lord to have been a warning to Judah of what would also happen to them, unless they forsook their idolatry and returned to the pure and faithful worship of Jehovah. Unfortunately, Judah was incapable of heeding the warning.

(6) The theological reasons given in 2 Kings 17:7-23 for God’s destroying Northern Israel out of his sight are elaborated in these verses; and the passage is often referred to as a “homily” (sermon). No in-depth study of this section will be attempted. The entire O.T. up to this point is the background of this analysis of why God rejected them and cast them away.

The reasons may be summarized as follows:

a. Their ingratitude and failure to appreciate all God did for them.

b. Their idolatry in which they adopted and worshipped the very gods of the Canaanites whose worship of them was the very reason why God drove them out and repopulated Canaan with Israel.

c. Their refusal to believe and heed the warnings of the great O.T. prophets whom God sent in the vain hope of rescuing them from their apostasy.

d. Their self-satisfaction and conceit, thinking of themselves as being God’s special darlings, coupled with their utter disdain and hatred of the Gentiles as exemplified so dramatically in the story of Jonah.

e. Their breaking of the sacred Sinaitic covenant.

f. They rejected the plainest commandments of the Law of Moses.

g. They developed a social “upper class” who hated, despised, and oppressed the poor.

h. They even sacrificed their children as burnt-offerings to Molek.

i. Instead of seeking God’s will by the appointed manner via the Urim and Thummin, they resorted to all kinds of enchantments and methods of divination.

j. They even outlawed the worship of the true God and made idolatry the official religion of the nation.

k. They even oppressed and murdered God’s prophets.

l. They became open enemies of the Davidic dynasty, and one of their rulers (Athaliah) even tried to exterminate David’s dynasty.

This is only a partial and incomplete summary, but it is enough to indicate why no complete report of such a reprobate history is advisable just here. The only wonder is that God put up with Northern Israel as long as he did. No nation ever deserved destruction any more than did they. As Ezekiel stated it, “They became worse than Sodom and Gomorrah” (Ezekiel 16).

(7) The final part of this chapter carries a description of the corrupted worship that was carried on in Canaan by the populations placed there by Assyria.

Verses 1-6


“In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel, and reigned nine years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, yet not as the kings of Israel that were before him. Against him came Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant and brought him tribute. And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea; for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and offered not tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria. and carried Israel away unto Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”

“And (he) reigned 9 years” Hoshea reigned until Samaria was taken, and therefore we must understand that the imprisonment of Hoshea (2 Kings 17:4) is a summary of what eventually happened, detailed by the following verses. Either that, or the statement of his imprisonment may be understood as a metaphorical reference to the siege that lasted three years.

“Yet not as the kings of Israel that were before him” It is not exactly known why Hoshea was judged to have been any better than prior kings of Israel. It might be explained by a Jewish tradition mentioned by Montgomery, “That Hoshea removed the guards set on the road to Jerusalem to keep Israelites from going there to worship.”(F6) If that tradition is true, it is a sad comment upon the determination of previous kings of Israel not to allow the Israelites to worship in the place that God had appointed.

“So king of Egypt” This king of Egypt cannot be certainly identified. One of the Sargon inscriptions, “Mentions a Piru as king of Egypt in the year 720 B.C., whose general, a certain Sibu, he claims to have defeated on the road to Egypt.”(F7) Again, we mention the danger of implicit trust in such ancient inscriptions.

“He besieged (Samaria) three years” Samaria was a powerful stronghold, and it is a credit to the builders and defenders of that city that it withstood a siege for such a long while.

“He placed them (the captives) in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” It is evident that Assyria scattered her captives among the provinces and that they were not carried to Nineveh, the capital. “It was also their policy to place them in small groups so that they would lose their identity and mingle with the local populations.”(F8) It is not certain as to the exact location of the places mentioned here, but scholars generally suppose that the captives were placed in northern Mesopotamia.

Verses 7-18


“And it was so, because the children of Israel had sinned against Jehovah their God, who brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the nations, whom Jehovah cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel which they made. And the children of Israel did secretly things that were not right against Jehovah their God: and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchman to the fortified city; and they set them up pillars and the Asherim upon every high hill, and under every green tree; and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations whom Jehovah carried away before them; and they wrought wicked things to provoke Jehovah to anger; and they served idols, whereof Jehovah had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing. Yet Jehovah testified unto Israel, and unto Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, like to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in Jehovah their God. And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified unto them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the nations that were round about them. And they forsook all the commandments of Jehovah their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherim, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, to provoke him to anger. Therefore Jehovah was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.”

Such was the shameful record of the Northern Kingdom. There can be no wonder that God removed them. The eternal justice of God demanded it. It was the licentious idolatry of the ancient Canaanites that led to God’s replacing them with Israel; and at this juncture Israel itself had become just as evil as the old Canaanites. (See Hosea 12:7, margin).

“From the tower of the watchman to the fortified city” This is an idiomatic expression with the meaning, “from shack to mansion,” “from cottage to palace,” or “from hamlet to city.”(F9)

“They burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations whom Jehovah carried away before them” The alleged innocence, in a relative sense, which some writers find in that worship in the high places was simply not there. This verse states that what the Israelites did was the same as that which the ancient Canaanites did, meaning, that they went all out in their sensual indulgence of their passions in the vulgar and immoral rites of the fertility cults, which, of course, constituted the principal business of those high places.

“They rejected… his covenant” The notion that any part of God’s ancient covenant with racial Israel still exists is false. A covenant can exist only so long as both parties are willing to keep it. Here Israel rejected it; and in the next paragraph, it is clear that Judah also rejected it.

“They worshipped all the host of heaven” We may discount the opinions of some critics who doubt, “Whether astral worship was known in the Northern Kingdom.”(F10) As a matter of fact, Israel had given themselves over to the worship of the host of heaven even in the times of the wilderness wanderings. (Acts 7:42).

Verses 19-20


“Also Judah kept not the commandments of Jehovah their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And Jehovah rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.”

“And Jehovah rejected all the seed of Israel” In these terse words the very same punishment was announced for Judah that had already fallen upon Israel. This was the dramatic terminal that signaled the end of God’s further concern, either for Israel as a race, or as a temporal kingdom. Henceforth, God’s total emphasis would rest upon that “righteous remnant,” spoken of by Isaiah and Jeremiah. There would be no further Divine preference either for racial or national Israel. Some find it very hard to understand this, but the truth of it is undeniable.

In this dramatic shift of God’s concern toward individual righteousness, it meant that racial or national preference, in any sense whatever, was no more. However, this was not a discrimination against Israel, for even after the Gentiles were admitted to God’s favor in the times of Christ, no Jew was ever excluded, but every man of every race is received upon identically the same conditions. One of the mysteries of human behavior is the fact of the Jewish resentment of God’s calling the Gentiles, because that had been God’s intention from the days of Genesis 12:3. God stated his purpose there in calling Abraham was to bless all men, “all the families of men,” not Jews only.

Verses 21-23


“For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drove Israel from following Jehovah, and made them sin a great sin. And the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; until Jehovah removed Israel out of his sight, as he spoke by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.”

This is merely a recapitulation of what has been stated many times already in the Book of Kings. Its appearance here was probably intended as a special warning to Judah.

Verses 24-26


“And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not Jehovah: therefore Jehovah sent lions among them, which killed some of them. Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which they had carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the law of the god of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the law of the god of the land.”

The massive deportation of the population of Northern Israel was so extensive that even after the re-population of the area by the king of Assyria the lions became a great problem by killing the people.

The pagan notion held generally throughout the world of that era was that every locality had its own god, and the general idea was that in order to be blessed the people were required to worship “the god of the land.” There was a kind of recognition in this that Jehovah was the `god of the land’ from which Israel had been removed. Of course, such a limited recognition of Jehovah was worthless, because he is the One and Only True God of all creation. Any notion that God could be pleased by a mere recognition of him as `a god’ among `many gods’ was totally false.

The five places mentioned here from which captives were placed in the cities of Samaria were: (1) Babylon, which Tiglath-pileser had conquered; (2) Cuthah, “a city of Babylonia, the seat of the god Nergel;”(F11) (3) Avva, “the same as Ivah (2 Kings 18:34), whose citizens worshipped the idols Nibhaz and Tartak (2 Kings 17:31); (4) Hamath, identified by J. G. G. Norman as “an important city on the Orontes river,”(F12) and (5) Sepharvaim, a city “supposed to be in Syria, based on its being mentioned here with Hamath,”(F13) We shall meet with the mention of these places again in the boastful speech of Rabshakeh.

Verses 27-28


“Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the law of the god of the land. So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear Jehovah.”

There was just one thing wrong with this arrangement. The priests of Northern Israel were themselves apostates from the true worship of Jehovah; and, as a consequence, it was very inadequate instruction which such a person would have been able to provide. True to the example of Jeroboam, the religion of Samaria promptly became a mixture of any number of pagan systems along with a defective knowledge and worship of Jehovah. These are mentioned next.

Yet, whoever that priest was, he seems to have possessed a copy of the Law of Moses in a somewhat corrupted form, the same being the basis of the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Verses 29-33


“Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the men of Avva made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burnt their children to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. So they feared Jehovah, and made unto them from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared Jehovah, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.”

This type of “fearing Jehovah” was, of course, without any genuine value whatever, and yet there remained among some of the poorer classes of the Israelites who had not been deported but left in Samaria a residual knowledge of Jehovah, based upon the Samaritan Pentateuch, and that accounts for the reception of Jesus Christ by Samaria (Luke 4). These people mingled racially with the new population, and were thoroughly hated and despised by the Jews.

The various gods which the people are said to have made were:

“Succoth-benoth” “This means `booths (houses) of daughters,’ i.e., either houses of prostitution, or shrines to which were carried images of female deities.”(F14)

“Cuth made Nergal” “This deity was the Babylonian lord of the underworld; he was the equivalent of the Roman god Mars.”(F15)

“The men of Hamath made Ashima” This deity is mentioned only here and is “unknown outside of the O.T.”(F16)

“The Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak “These two names are totally unknown, and the words themselves are uncertain. Jewish tradition says that one of these deities was worshipped under the image of a dog’s head, and the other under the guise of an ass. However, the Jews were notoriously abusive when they referred to heathen gods.”(F17)

“The Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech” Both of these deities were related in some way to Molek, as indicated by the final two syllables in each name. This horrible worship was especially strong in Carthage.

Verses 34-41


“Unto this day they do after the former manner: they fear not Jehovah, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which Jehovah commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel; with whom Jehovah had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them: but Jehovah, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and outstretched arm, him shall ye fear, and unto him shall ye bow yourselves, and unto him shall ye sacrifice: and the statutes and the ordinances, and the law and the commandment which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do forevermore; and ye shall not fear other gods: and the covenant which I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods: but Jehovah your God shall ye fear; and he will deliver you out of the hand of aU your enemies. Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner. So these nations feared Jehovah, and served their graven images; their children likewise, and their children’s children, as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.”

Montgomery called this paragraph “A condemnation of the Samaritan sect.”(F18) However, there are overtones in the passage which must be understood as applicable to the entire nation of God’s chosen people, Judah and Israel alike.

“In some ways, this chapter is the heart of 2 Kings, completing the stage of history that was begun when Yahweh declared the division of Solomon’s kingdom through Ahijah the prophet and by the agency of Jeroboam ben Nebat. The Northern kingdom was to serve as an example to the house of David; but Judah learned little (or nothing at all) from the experience of Israel; because they had to go through the same judgment and destruction and exile.”(F19)

“The law and the commandment which he wrote for you” Here is a reference to the fact that the Law of Moses, as found in the Pentateuch, was written down and preserved for Israel. The idea, once prevalent, but no longer tenable, that writing did not exist in those days is false. The science of writing was known long before Moses.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-kings-17.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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